My favourite Christmas artefact1 is a little-known book edited by a rather well-known author: Douglas Adams. The book in question is The Utterly Utterly Merry Comic Relief Christmas Book 1986, and it is a truly great read. I came to own it as part of my utter mania for anything Douglas Adams-related between the ages of, ooh, 11 and 18 years old, and it’s one of the best bits of obscure Adamsania that I’ve collected.
It consists of short, almost sketch-like contributions from a variety of authors. The one that is most imprinted on my memory is the very first, a letter from Sir Humphrey Appleby to the reader inviting them to have a good Christmas. The letter, which takes an entire page of the book, is very long and rambling in Sir Humphrey’s style; it wasn’t until the third or fourth read that I noticed the entire thing was a single, uninterrupted sentence. (The best comedy, I think, is the comedy that finds new ways to make you laugh and marvel at it many iterations later.)
The Adams link shouldn’t be underreported, though. He contributed three short stories to the book, one of which — “Young Zaphod Plays It Safe” — is set in the world of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and another of which — “A Christmas Fairy Story” — was co-written with Terry Jones. I confess that although I recall finding both funny, neither has left an impression on me in terms of their plots2. The third story — “The Private Life of Genghis Khan” — was based on a sketch written by Adams and Graham Chapman for a TV show called _Out of the Trees_3, and which did leave a strong impression on me, both in terms of the plot and the comedy.
There are other bits and pieces scattered through the book, too. New definitions are provided in the style of The Meaning of Liff, the Young Ones contribute, and a variety of other classic British comics from the period appear in various guises.
Unsurprisingly, The Utterly Utterly Merry Comic Relief Christmas Book 1986 is currently out-of-print, Comic Relief having mysteriously decided not to keep a 23 year old topical comedy book around for future generations to enjoy. Having said that, it is not difficult to find on eBay and will only run you around £2, so if you’re curious, it’s well worth picking up a copy.
- I got to the end of the article before I realised that this isn’t really true at all. My favourite Christmas artefact, by quite a long way, is The Father Christmas Letters by JRR Tolkien. When I realised this, I justified having chosen not to write about it by thinking: “it’s not very funny”. But, it is actually very funny. And it’s very much SFF. So, I have no excuse. This article is a sham. ↩
- I may reread it this Christmas, to fix that. ↩
- I have no clue whatsoever why IMDb lists it as a TV movie. Because there was only a single episode, perhaps? ↩